Anointing of the Sick

For the sick, anointment can alleviate suffering,
bring peace to their souls.

The Gospels report that Christ cured the sick and brought them to their feet by the laying-on of hands. [Mk. 6:5; Mt. 8:3-15] he even introduced the apostles to this form of contact, adding to it anointment with oil. [Mk. 6:13] This is an expression of humanity and divine tenderness. Above and beyond this symbolic gesture, which constitutes the sacrament of Anointing the Sick, God and the Church support and gently care for those with bodily suffering, as well as for the old and dying. This tangible sign of solicitude is the last of the seven sacraments, which accompany us throughout our lives.

From the earliest apostolic times (first century), the practice of the laying-on of hands on the sick became widespread. "Anyone of you who is ill" wrote Saint James in his Epistle, "should send for the elders (presbuteroi in Greek, hence, "priests") of the church, and they must anoint the sick person with oil in the name of the Lord and pray over him. The prayer of faith will save the sick person and the Lord will raise him up again; and he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven...." (James 5:14-15). It is thus a sign of physical as well as spiritual healing, which is concluded by forgiveness. The administration of the sacrament by a minister involves the laying-on of hands, and anointment with the oil for anointing the sick (blessed by the bishop on Maundy Thursday) on the forehead and the hands, accompanied by these words: "[Name], through this holy anointing, may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up."

The expression "Extreme Unction" is better known than the "Anointing of the Sick", although the latter is more exact. Extreme Unction was given only when death was imminent, when the sick were in extremis. In a superstitious way, the family waited for the last possible moment before calling in the priest with his oils and viaticum (the last communion), for his visit was generally considered to be a sign of death. Today the Church uses a custom of anointing the sick which is more consistent with its beginnings.

It is, therefore, not necessary to wait until the last moment before asking for anointment; a serious illness, any major operation, or simply the onset of old age, are reason enough to receive it in faith, with the alleviation of the body and soul which it always brings.

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